I bought this little book off Ebay a couple of months ago. I’m not exactly sure what I was searching for at the time but this wonderful little autograph book from 1911/12 popped up and I was intrigued. This was the first time I had seen something like this – although how I had missed these little books in my quest for letters, postcards, diaries etc is anyone’s guess.
It turns out that these little autograph books were immensely popular from the early 1900s to the late 1950s. There are lots of these little books ‘out there’ and they are absolutely fascinating little gems to collect.
When we think of collecting autographs today, we tend to think of trying to amass the scribbled signatures of famous people. However these little books weren’t for that purpose (although no doubt it would have been an added bonus to receive an autograph from someone rich or famous), they were to be passed around family and friends.
The autograph books that I am fascinated by are those from the turn of the century to the 1930s. During these times I have noticed these little books to contain the most effort in terms of entries. While still around in the 1950s, I think the ‘art’ of these books was beginning to wane.
Almost always featuring a cloth or leather cover and full of assorted shades of pastel coloured paper, these little books were used by our Edwardian ancestors to record the musings of their friends and family. The owner of the little book would pass her (or his – but this seems to have been a hobby particularly enjoyed by young women) book around – perhaps over anything from a few months to a few years – and hope to gain a collection of poems, sketches, jokes or musings on life.
The effort that the contributors put into these little books is absolutely amazing! I often browse them on Ebay and I also own a couple. I wonder if people felt under pressure to write something scintillating or witty? Did they have a stock entry they used for each book where they were asked to fill a page? How long did they take over their page?
Some of the artwork that appears in these books is exceptional. Many contributors go to the lengths of actually painting little pictures. Some paste in stamps. Others write out long passages from the scriptures in beautiful calligraphy style writing.
I’ve also noted that many phrases pop up again and again in books. These were obviously popular quotes of the day, which are no longer shared in today’s world.
I have the little autograph book of Miss Helena Wild, compiled between 1911-1912. I’m fairly sure that Helena was in her early teens, and the reason that I am able to assume this is that Helena’s book is a little different from some of the autograph books I have seen, and this is why it is extra special to me. Helena’s book contains lots of little photos of her friends accompanying their entries. There is something both strange and enchanting about looking at the faces of these young girls while reading their words and holding the little book that they held over 100 years ago. I find it amazing to think of all the hands that opened the cover of this little red autograph book. Who were they? What did they become?
I also imagine Helena Wild throughout the rest of her life, occasionally looking through her little book and smiling at the memories of people perhaps no longer in her life. I envisage her as an old lady, turning the pages and perhaps grieving for some of her friends. And then I feel a little sad that none of Helena’s descended family wanted to keep hold of her precious little book of memories and that it ends up in a jiffy bag popping through a stranger’s letterbox 105 years later.
M. Wheeler writes in August 1911,
“Go little book, go far and wide
to Helena’s friends on every side
and get them all to write a page
that she may read in her old age”.
I don’t know how far Helena’s book has travelled in distance but it has certainly travelled far in years. Imagine all of Helena’s young friends if they could see our world today. Instead of writing in autograph books they would be posting on facebook or instagram, perhaps sharing a quote or a funny picture. The sadness in this is that we will have less ‘real’ souvenirs of our friends to go with us into old age. Perhaps we should consider buying ourselves a little autograph book and asking out friends to write or draw… I’m sure someone in 2120 would love to look through it.
Thank you for reading x
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